When facing “this horrible outcome or that miserable one” leaders can reframe the situation by asking a series of questions, try to see the bigger picture and follow their values, even if the decision is tough, write Karin Hurt and David Dye. “Often, just the act of looking at a challenging situation through a different frame will re-energize you and reveal solutions,” they write.



There will be times when you face outcomes you intensely dislike. A seeming no-win scenario is also a chance to distinguish yourself, earn people’s trust, and innovate. Here are seven ways to lead through these tough circumstances, build your credibility, and sleep well at night:

  • Reframe
  • Own the UGLY
  • Collaborate
  • Win with Values
  • Choose a Different Time Frame
  • Take Action
  • Leave If You Must
  • A No-Win Scenario?

Recently, we had one of our global leadership development participants ask how we would lead through a no-win scenario. He faced a challenging product request that he believed would either overtax his team or disappoint the client. He concluded his question by asking: “What is your Kobayashi Maru?”

For the non-Trekkies, this is a classic Star Trek reference to a no-win scenario that everyone in Star Fleet Academy would face. You receive a distress call from a damaged ship (the Kobayashi Maru) that’s stranded in enemy space. If you choose to ignore it, they die.

If you choose to attempt the rescue, you risk your ship and crew (and in the actual test, an attempted rescue is met with overwhelming enemy force).Captain Kirk is the only one to have “beaten” the scenario in that, on his third attempt, he reprogrammed the simulation.


Business No-Win Scenarios

You might not have to rescue a damaged ship, but lead long enough and you will certainly face situations where you don’t like the alternatives. These circumstances can feel like no-win scenarios. Here are just a few examples that we’ve faced in our careers: